NEW DELHI - India appears to be reaching out to Pakistan with the aim of helping the credibility of the civilian government in Islamabad, seen as the best chance of bringing some stability to the region since the Mumbai attacks.
In the latest moves to reduce tensions, top foreign ministry officials of India and Pakistan are expected to meet in Italy this week although hopes of any progress are thin.
India has been invited to G8 foreign ministers' meeting in Italy's Trieste to discuss Afghanistan and Pakistan. The foreign secretaries of the rivals could meet on the sidelines.
Pakistan has been pushing for the resumption of five-year-long peace talks broken off by India after November's attacks on Mumbai. New Delhi blames the attacks on Pakistan-based militants and wants Islamabad to act against them.
India may be signalling its willingness for continued dialogue because it wants to be seen as engaging with the civilian government and boosting its credibility in the face of military hawks in Pakistan.
The establishment in Pakistan is not unified and India is trying to enlarge the relative weight of the more sensible elements within Pakistan, Siddharth Varadarajan, strategic affairs editor of the Hindu newspaper, said.
Not engaging with the civilian government would mean helping those within Pakistan that are implacably hostile towards India.
Any talks now may have a narrow focus on what action Pakistan has taken in regard to the Mumbai attacks that killed 175 people.
With India insisting on action from Pakistan which says it is now busy fighting the Taliban on its western border, there has been little movement forward in relations between the two sides. [ID:nLG698657]
Yet, there is a desire in New Delhi to break the logjam without being seen as doing so under pressure from Washington, which is pushing for an easing of tensions between the two rivals so that Islamabad can focus on fighting Taliban militants.
Former foreign secretary Shashank said India could not deal with the different power structures within the Pakistani polity such as the military. New Delhi must focus on just one entity -- the civilian government.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari met this month for the first time since the Mumbai attacks in a tentative thaw. Singh also said he was willing to meet Pakistan more than half way if it cracked down on militants.
Their foreign secretaries were asked this month to meet and lay the ground for another round of meetings between the leaders in Egypt next month.
India would now look for some credible signal from Pakistan on terrorism so that the initiative taken by the prime minister can be pursued with the support of the Indian public opinion, said former Indian foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal.
BACK CHANNEL DIPLOMACY
While India wants to focus on persuading Islamabad to take action against the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group it blames for the Mumbai attacks, Pakistan wants all issues back on the table, including the festering dispute over the Kashmir region.
Officials and experts say Prime Minister Singh and then President Pervez Musharraf reached a secret framework agreement in 2007 to advance peace talks, but it stalled after political opposition forced Musharraf out of office last year.
But now the timing is wrong on the Indian side, while Pakistan's civilian government is unlikely to want to build on a framework negotiated by Musharraf.
Having good relations with India is a geopolitical imperative for Pakistan, said a Pakistani diplomat on condition of anonymity. But he said India too had to show some goodwill.
While continued dialogue could lead to a calibrated easing of tension, it may be too early to expect a resumption in back channel diplomacy.
The current process will take about 3-6 months to play out, said Varadarajan.
We still haven't come to the stage of back channel diplomacy and are looking at a 3-6 months horizon. For now, India wants to create a forum to learn what Pakistan has done regarding Mumbai.
(Additional reporting by Myra MacDonald in London)